Pictured: Nonna's Spaghetti & Meatballs
We gave the old dinner standby spaghetti & meatballs a face-lift, with 48 percent fewer calories and two-thirds less sodium, while bumping up fiber, minerals and vitamins. Here's what we did to make spaghetti and meatballs healthier.
White spaghetti (2 cups) with 8 meatballs (6 ounces), sauce (3/4 cup) and Parmesan cheese (2 tablespoons), garlic bread, iceberg-lettuce salad. This high-carbohydrate meal has—on average—a whopping number of calories (1,495) and fat grams (70) and more than a day’s worth of sodium, yet it’s shy in vitamins, minerals and other good things, such as antioxidants.
The average restaurant serving of spaghetti & meatballs heaped with grated cheese is enough food for two people. While red sauce and meatballs are a much better choice than creamy pasta carbonara or alfredo, too much of a good thing can still be fraught with nutritional pitfalls, most notably excess calories, sodium and saturated fat. Add a slab of garlic bread made with margarine and you’ve loaded up on trans fats as well.
• Iceberg lettuce adds great crunch to salad but few nutrients. Token tomatoes and a smattering of carrots barely help. Coated with 3 tablespoons Italian dressing and dotted with seasoned croutons, a salad like this tops out at about 1,300 mg sodium, 20 grams fat and 265 calories.
• Store-bought garlic bread, typically made with margarine and flavored salt, adds 320 calories, 20 grams fat and 500 mg of sodium to an already burdened meal.
Whole-wheat spaghetti (1 cup) with 4 meatballs (3 ounces), sauce (1/2 cup) and Parmesan cheese (1 tablespoon), crusty bread, broccoli, salad of mixed greens. While the overall amount of food on this plate is similar, the makeup has changed dramatically.
Start with a smaller portion of whole-wheat pasta and meatballs, simplify the garlic bread, add a few stalks of broccoli and use dark green leafy lettuce in the salad. These modest changes result in huge improvements.
• Whole-wheat pasta has twice the fiber of white-flour pasta. It also retains trace minerals not added back during the enrichment process.
• Mesclun greens and more carrots, tomatoes and red peppers now make the salad rich in folate and vitamins A and C. Chopped nuts add back the crunch along with iron and magnesium, all for 145 calories.
• Two tablespoons of vinaigrette dressing provides plenty of flavor without drowning the salad. Homemade salad dressings have much less sodium and often more flavor than commercial versions.
• Broil a slice of crusty whole-wheat bread with 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon Parmesan cheese: great flavor for a fraction of the fat, sodium and calories of the original.
• A serving of broccoli (1/2 cup) adds fiber, folate and vitamins A and C.